Morocco runs for presidency of UN Human Rights Council

"The credibility of the UN system is at stake", says the Norwegian Support Committee about this week's election of a new presidency of the Human Rights Council. Norwegian organizations are critical of the candidacy.

Published 08 January 2024

“As president of the UN Human Rights Council, Morocco wants to prevent scrutiny of its own abuses in the territory it has occupied since 1975. At a time when the international legal order is threatened, a Moroccan presidency of the Human Rights Council will further undermine the credibility of the UN”, says Erik Hagen, director of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara.

In 2022, Morocco became a member of the prestigious UN Human Rights Council, despite the fact that the country fails to fulfill key requirements. Now Morocco is seeking the presidency itself. Ten Norwegian organizations today sent a public letter to Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide expressing concern about Morocco's candidacy.

The presidency of the Human Rights Council entails important symbolic and practical power. The president proposes candidates to the UN's expert mechanisms, appoints experts to investigative bodies and is supposed to build awareness and trust in the UN's Human Rights Council.

"The bodies that Morocco now seeks to lead have succeeded in condemning Morocco's gross abuses in recent years. It is perfectly clear that Morocco wants this seat in order to prevent scrutiny of its own abuses", says Professor Mads Andenæs, who functions as a lawyer for the most known group of political prisoners from Western Sahara.

"Morocco has already succeeded in closing off Western Sahara to the outside world, a territory Morocco has largely occupied since 1975. Morocco gags local civil society and journalists, expels observers, prevents the human rights mandate of MINURSO and denies the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights access to Western Sahara", says Andenæs.

For the year 2024, the presidency of the council goes to the so-called Africa group. There are two candidates: South Africa and Morocco. The election will be held on 10 January 2024 in Geneva.

Both the Geneva-based organization International Service for Human Rights and Sahrawi civil society have already condemned Morocco's candidacy and are asking members of the council not to vote for Morocco.

Read the full letter from the Norwegian organizations below.


Joint statement sent to the Norwegian foreign minister Espen Barth Eide on 8 January 2024 by Norwegian Civil Society 


The undersigned organizations of the Norwegian civil society strongly believe that Morocco falls short of meeting the required standards to preside over the Human Rights Council and urges States to object to its 2024 candidacy. With this statement, we join the call already issued by International Service for Human Rights and Saharawi Civil Society opposing the Moroccan bid for the presidency of the UN Human Rights Council. 

Since Morocco joined the Council, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International has continued to report on how Moroccan authorities have stepped up their harassment of journalists and dissidents  while detaining and subjecting dissidents, journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders to unfair trials. 

Morocco's failure to meet the standards required of Council members was denounced in 2022 by the Geneva-based International Service for Human Rights when Rabat successfully sought to become a member of the Council. Despite being a member, Morocco has continued to commit gross and systematic human rights violations, and is regularly included in the report of the UN Secretary General on reprisals (A/HRC/51/47).

In the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara, Moroccan authorities continue to harass activists supporting self-determination, prevent gatherings, and obstruct the work of local non-governmental human rights organizations, as reported by Human Rights Watch. Saharawi journalists are also subject to unfair trials and according to Reporters Without Borders, “journalism is one of the many victims of this conflict, which has been forgotten by the media spotlight and left as a virtual news “black hole””. 

On 8th December 2023, the Council announced that a vote is expected in January 2024 to elect the Council’s President for the 18th cycle in 2024 among the members of the Africa Group. The State representatives who have put forward their candidacies are Morocco and South Africa. Morocco remains the only country in Africa who continues to refuse to ratify the African Charter on Human Rights.

The presidency of the Human Rights Council holds important symbolic and practical power, including a role in proposing candidates for Special Procedures and expert mechanisms, appointing experts to serve on investigative bodies and building awareness and trust in the UN Human Rights Council. 

Knowing Morocco´s trend and downward spiral of refusing to engage with UN bodies, denying serious violations and subjecting victims and their families to reprisals and even punishing human rights defenders attending the sessions of the Council, Morocco´s current bid is alarming. Such a presidency would seriously threaten the legitimacy and credibility of the UN Human Rights Council.


Signatory organizations: 

  1. Norwegian Human Rights Fund
  2. Rafto Foundation
  3. Norwegian Council for Africa
  4. Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara
  5. Legal counselling for women (JURK)
  6. Jussbuss
  7. Changemaker
  8. Norwegian Tibet Committee
  9. Norwegian Association of the Disabled
  10. Industri Energi Forbundet for Ledelse og Teknikk




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